Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 2006, or earlater

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

An Acidemic Godard Reader

Over the years I've written a lot about old Godard, and a few have written for Acidemic on him as well. Read then this curated complete collection, and weep with hilarious wonder!

(Les Carabiners - Fox Lorber DVD commentary review:
(Bright Lights film Journal 2/5/07)

"...Part of this trouble I believe lies with the vanguard cinema studies professors. Bloodied from their battles with musty-tweeded literature professors over the worthiness of “pop culture” as a field of study, they seek to deaden the levity of their material, assuming that dourness and authority go hand in hand.

Cinema writers who are deep and entertaining at the same time–Robin Wood, Kim Newman, David Thomson, etc. tend to be British. The French have their own problems but, like Godard, are funny intrinsically (as long as they don’t try to be, in other words, as long as they keep it deadpan). It seems to be endemic to the U.S., that most intellectually insecure of nations, to mistake earnestness with importance. "(more)


What Godard is chronicling here, then, perhaps, maybe, probably not, is the evolution of B-movie convention from The Big Sleep to Easy Rider. The exact second you realize that the hot blond waif sitting in the background at the bar looks a bit like a really young Marianne Faithful (above), she suddenly starts singing "As Tears Go By" - not lip syncing, but singing right there, a capella, trilling her voice gently and feeling every word of the song, expressing some longing we have no idea about but the mood of wistful sadness overwhelms the film in a summer of love tsunami, before it's even begun, only to resume its dry sand babbling even before she finishes the song. Compared to this bit of subdued emotionalism from a rising starlet of British rock royalty, the ensuing G. Marxist wordplay between Leaud and the bartender suddenly seems tired, yesterday's model. There's a new sincerity in town and it's cool to have feelings, or at any rate it's cool if you're Marianne Faithful. Karina, instead, is trying on the outfit of a bitchy too-cool-for-modernism contemporary diva (the host instead of the contestant on Europe's Next Top Model) for size. She's not about to pick up a flower and take off her shoes just because the other kids are doing it. So instead she just freezes from the knees down and looks at the floral arrangements like a penniless, starving lotus eater. 

(2009, Issue #8)
Trying to watch some of the extras on the Criterion DVD of Godard's Pierrot Le Fou (1965), I found a very interesting documentary: a "celebration" of Godard's films which opens on long shots of a Parisian souvenir store's postcard rack, then close-ups of postcards on display for Godard's various early movies, the ones with iconic starlets particularly: Breathless, Le Mepris and, of course Pierrot itself. You might say, ah, oui, la femme, monsieur, so what? But Godard would know so what... indeed.

The purpose of this documentarian's montage was, sadly, not to create a post-modern mirror echoing Godard's own frequent use of postcards, book stalls, and magazine covers in his films as illustrations of--among other things--the way the press caters to humanity's base desires in an effort to suppress genuine change and revolution--but to canonize Godard and his "easy, early, sexy" films, to attach iconic markers to his terrain so the bourgeoisie don't get lost in the thicket and start running for the exits. I'm reminded of Godard's phrase about the bourgeoisie seeing a Roger Vadim movie that's supposed to be Shakespeare and being very excited that they finally 'get' the immortal bard now that he's all tarted up as it were: "This is Shakespeare? But this is marvelous!" (more)

(2/28/09 - Bright Lights)

"Godard wants the youth of Paris to be mad as hell and ready to fight for causes, but he no longer believes in the causes themselves, or in causes at all, except in that fighting for them is “good for the youth” of which he is no longer part. But he’s glad they associate him with causes, because his cold old bones are warmed by their political fire; but that’s all, as soon as they leave his side to chase the next rainbow, he’s back to smoking and reading the script. This is the adult Godard; he’s switched from angry to fond of anger; emotion of any strength can be fire in which to forge liberation of the self; one can’t free a society that is nothing but shackles by definition. Always it’s back to the one, not creating as Lacan said, “new masters,” via championing some explicitly rendered social cause. For Godard, all actions and points of order fade fast in the lapping waves, so focus on the waves or go down with the ship. A new idea is already coming into focus as the next one is cast off; hold onto the last wave too long and you wind up bedraggled on the shore of Dour Daddy Dogma. (more) 

Here's what I mean: you see a knight on a horse trying to scoop up a naked, running maiden--thunderous classical music on the soundtrack, hoofbeats, her frightened panting and shrieks--this generates a certain preconditioned response: will you see this chick being abducted? Will you see the hero ride to her rescue? Where is this hero? Your stomach might clamp in suspense. You fear and hate the knight and want to save the maiden, without even knowing the story (maybe she's a demon in disguise, who knows?) Suddenly the horse pulls up short so it doesn't bump into a moving camera, and the naked maiden runs off set and hides behind the cameraman then she goes climbing up into the lighting rigging so the knight can't reach her, so he dismounts and goes to have a smoke.

There's two ways you can react to all that: one is to be angry or frustrated, to think you are "missing" something. Are they filming a movie within a movie here, or is this real? Why is she still running if she's not on camera? Who's filming this second movie about making the movie? The other is to grasp the ambiguity, the modern art/Zen response Godard is creating, and thus to laugh at your own predisposition to get so absorbed into narrative that you fight its cessation. For this second response, you are freed by realizing that the meltdown between the film and the film-within-the-film is intended to provide this response. Can you let go of your expectations, your obsessive need for character arcs, story lines, and dramatic resolution? If you can, you begin to see the ways film tricks you. Can you stand to watch stock characters and cliche types get melted down into meaninglessness? Will this technique frustrate you beyond endurance, or set you free from your steel trap mind? (more)

With an artsy self-reflexive intellectual like Godard, prostitution will naturally function as a metaphor for cinema. Indeed, everything will, you point out. Prostitution, if I may return to that point, is a particularly apt metaphor for the cinema, counters JLG. This DP is Coutard's why camera leers over Karina's shoulder, sympathizing with her sadness, even as it causes the sadnesses it sympathizes with through the very nature of sympathizing. N/Ever sure what's an act and what isn't--is she just drawing us in to ask if she can borrow 2,000 francs?--in a meta way, it's even true that her character's dreams of being a film star are realized, right there in the act of being in the movie you are now witnessing, and yet even that is not enough - and it's your fault for by then you are only half-paying attention. Paying full attention would be impossible. Godard is forcing us to realize how our own hunger for cinematic beauty is itself responsible for the problems of exploitation and sexual commodification we wring our hands over at the bourgeois benefit. This is how we destroy the characters we love, our eye and its receptivity to light is the real monster here. But whereas the similarly distant Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion reacts to the encroachment of our gaze with delusional homicidal madness, Karina's prostitute just watches our watching, almost bemused, as her freedom and life are crushed up in the jaws of the Other's tepid desire. We might enjoy standing the gaze of millions, but she could give a shit. Sure she'll hide her tobacco-stained teeth if you ask, but she won't care if you see them either. If she did care, Godard's whole house of intellectual cards would collapse. (more)

(Divinorum Psychonauticus, 2011; Acidemic #8)

There's a scene in First Name: Carmen (1983), for example, a violent shoot-out between sexy young terrorist bank robbers and French police is going on in a big hotel wherein elderly residents, ensconced in their favorite lobby and top floor armchairs, read newspapers, oblivious or at any rate barely concerned about the deliberately fake-seeming violence. They react to the bloodshed the way tolerant grandparents might react to their grandchildren running through the living room with toy guns. Ah, but are they supposed to be toy guns, JL? Which realm of belief are we on-- the cops and robbers side[narrative immersion], or the elderly hotel guests for whom it's either young people making a movie, acting out May 68-style agitprop theater, or really killing each other and what--if anything--is the difference in the long run? Banks have always made the best spots for plays about bank robbing wherein even the cops don't know if their bullets and targets are real. (more)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Drool in a Crisis: JURASSIC WORLD vs. the Heche VOLCANO

Who'd of thought that real life dinosaurs of JURASSIC WORLD (2015) would one day become so banal that the DNA designers would invent the NEW Indominus Rex - only from InGen? The park needs a hyper-unnatural super predator to, as the bitch-snooty feminist park executive Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard) puts it, "up the wow factor." And oh wow, this baby has it all: bazooka shell-resistant teflon exteriors, cup holders, optional child restraints, heat signal-blocking chameleon camouflage, a 'raptor's agility, a Rex's bite, and a 'Ted Bundy amok in a sleeping sorority' bloodlust, and no social conditioning whatsoever. "You can't have predator features without the accompanying aggression" notes InGen gene splicer Dr. Wu (BD Wong) once the thing busts loose --which isn't long, don't worry. We just need to 'bond' with the characters and note the start of their arcs, trite as they may be (we wouldn't miss any of these people if they got eaten). Most offensively, underwriting all the set-up and take-down, is a basic confusion between finger pointing and a genuine moral. The carnage wrought upon all these extras and CGI monsters by this wow-factor Indominus Rex is our fault, because we're so easily jaded, as Americans, as an audience. That old wow factor has sunk mighty low since 1993, when the first CGI Jurassic Park blew us all away. But before we can even fire back a "no it's your fault, Spielberg!" retort, the movie switches on its headphones and starts blasting that John Williams saccharine 'sweep.' Shhhhhh.

Naturally, we want this Indominus to get loose. There wouldn't be a film without it. And having the pterodactyls and pteranodons attack the fleeing, fanny pack-bedecked tourists en mass is a lovely Roger Corman-esque event. This being a big budget movie, these CGI monsters aren't just video game-style chroma keyed-up overlays but detailed creatures with perfect amounts of shade and sun glinting; it's the people that aren't properly shaded and shadowed, especially Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard), the uptight caricature of female executive control freak bitchiness ("it's all about control with you people," snaps raptor-whisperer Owen [Chris Pratt]) who expects men and monsters alike to heave to when she pouts and stamps her corporation-gray heels. The type of person who uses "we" when speaking (since she represents the corporate brand): "we'd like you to visit the tiger cage on your way out"; her sister (Judy Greer) is the same way, sending her children, two boys off to the park to visit "Auntie Claire" so she can divorce their dad without having to look into their wounded doe eyes. Naturally the boys are fobbed onto an assistant and naturally they get lost in the hot zone and naturally Claire will have to kick off those grey heels and come crawling back to the one man who can find them for her (she's scared more of telling her sister than the kids being eaten, making her the female version of the dad of great adventure --the 'aunt desexed by her ambition'). Do I even need to mention that he and Claire went on one date awhile back and didn't get along because she brought "an itinerary" and her "diet wouldn't allow tequila." 

Meanwhile for a zoo executive she knows less than a five year-old about her corporation's stock and trade. "Animals raised in isolation aren't always the most sociable," Owen says, subtextually implying Claire needs to get laid. Illustrating the validity of Camille Paglia's anti-feminist theories, Claire dismisses everything Owen says as sexist dogma. The alleged human villain this time is a military defense contractor (Vincent D'Onofrio) who wants to train raptors to sniff out and eat the Taliban, but hey--at least he tries to be friendly; Claire's the real villain, the symbol of woman as desexed ball buster. Owen notes 'these are animals' and what he has with them is 'a relationship.' He's the only one to call the killer dinosaur hybrid a "she" instead of an "it." You get the drill. He's the only employee of the park with any balls, foresight, intelligence, knowledge of predator pack mentality, or eye-hand coordination. Claire calls the dinosaurs 'assets' and presumes smirking at Owen's survival tips will somehow bend the reality of nature to accommodate her like a patient doorman angling for a tip. 

Thank god for Chris Pratt, then, savior of three-dimensional humanity. Lord knows Hollywood's been needing a rugged tough guy who for once is not Australian. Pratt offers belated proof that American masculinity is not an oxymoron.  The ultimate hybrid animal himself, Pratt is able to play a range worthy of a real human, despite dialogue homogenized into banal bytes by legions of overpaid writers. Part quasi-sincere slacker/stoner comedy bro/ part hyper-competent SEAL / Ranger romantic lead, Pratt's able to convey naturalism without crunchiness, charm without narcissism, guts without indifference, cool without callousness, sensitivity without sentiment, and self-awareness without self-absorption. No non-Australian has been able to manage such a combination since Brando. And he's already proven his ability to take orders from a bossy redhead (Zero Dark Thirty). Do I need to mention that when Claire comes to his trailer to ask for help, he's outside by the river fixing his badass vintage Triumph motorcycle in a T-shirt and jeans, while she's stomping around in the mud wearing unflattering (waist-hiding?) 90s business skirt/slacks combo and rocking terrible Prince Valiant hair?

Pout at the devil: Claire demonstrates the 'hurt puppy eyes' method of leadership.
The rest of the cast of course is just another rack of digestible tourists and 'one quirk-apiece' staffers somehow even more aggravating then the self-righteous animal activists played by Vince Vaughn and Alessandro Novo in the past films, or the sickening "life will find a way" sentiment-spewers Richard Attenborough and Sam Neill. I always cringe the way spontaneous hermaphrodite reproduction is something both men 'own' through getting strangely pious and sentimental over it --"life found a wayy..." -- it's downright creepy that we're supposed to bask in some kind of baby crib familial glow at these words, while John Williams' uber-trite 'sweeping' "Jurassic theme" presumes will cry and salute at the same time.

At least here in the JURASSIC WORLD the "you're playing God!" sermonizing is all leveled at the boo-hiss military guy (hairy arms, golf shirts and a big gold watch) and BD Wong's dispassionate mad scientist (racistly Asian) gene splicer, and even there it's more along the lines of animal rights rather than the 'awing baby chicks at the 4H Fair' vibe, which is far easier to take, even if the lack of any real (as in not cliche'd 'stock') genuine character detail casts a sickly pall. One longs for at least one 'real' termite detail. We used to get some: Jeff Goldblum's relationship with his black daughter (in part II); how Neill and ex-girlfriend Laura Dern are still friends even though she's married (to a different guy) with a kid (in part III). But here in the fourth film, we're at a whole new zenith of trite, as the casting director, costume dept., make-up, script, and actor are all presuming they're the only ones who are supplying the character's essence. It's not enough that the imbecilic glazed-eyed security guard doesn't notice the one dinosaur he's supposed to watch has slipped away from him, he's cramming a sandwich into his fat face right at the moment the dismayed visitors point it out and even then doesn't stop eating or get his fat ass off his stool. That's just one example. The most offensive is the younger nephew of Claire, who has that face where a year ago it was cherubic and now it's time to kick him out the door so stops hanging out with mom and goes outside and starts playing with boys his own age. He professes to love dinosaurs but he's clearly terrified of bending a rule, even in the company of his 'cool' older brother, whose smoky eyes (new from Coverboy mascara?) keep playing tag with gaggles of conveniently cute and similarly parentless girls, to whom, rather than try to play along and pick up a girl himself OR get shy and blush, the younger kid acts like Bambi watching his mom flirt with the hunters. In other words, older brother has to constantly remind younger that they'll always be brothers, in dialogue clearly written by an only child raised in a test tube.

I'm not asking for Eugene O'Neill here, man, but it's not that fucking hard to write good brotherly dialogue. Roger Corman would just have them maybe rehearse and go see movies together or something, so they could improv even a hair. But that's the problem with 'big' movies like this, the director is rarely even in the same square mile of cords and gaffers; unions forbid touching dialogue written long ago by teams of hacks better at talking their way into jobs than actually listening to what other non-Hollywood people are saying. A good writer (or even producer) knows the more specific you are, the more universal the appeal; generalities work only in how equally they bore audiences of all nations and ages. But that's the problem, isn't it?

Not to harp this point but I keep imagining what a kick ass movie if the two brothers had a cool deadpan rapport - going into character like Vincent and Jules, albeit with whatever films they liked or something other than this 'on the nose' crapola. J.J. Abrams or Joss Whedon might have provided some dialogue like that or just letting the kids improvise. I know kids aren't allowed to play with cap guns anymore like my buddy Alan and I at the same approx. age, but they can't be this square... man. Just can't be.... but when they finally overcome their terror and feel exhilaration through zapping an attacking raptor as it tries to climb in the back of their SWAT vehicle, the kid's first exclamation is "I can't wait to tell mom!" What, is he gonna run in and tell her after he smokes his first joint... when he's 45?

Maybe their arrested maturity can be explained by the way the mom (Judy Greer) calls them on the phone constantly, nagging them for not calling her the minute they got off the plane, the minute they got to the park, etc., asking if they're having fun while trying to guilt trip them at the same time with her unflattering pouty spoiled brat frown (above). She wants them to have fun in that oppressive sort of way, where no matter what level of fun they do have, it's not enough and/or too much of the wrong kind. If they enjoy the park without her, they're ungrateful. If they don't, they must not be trying, in order to piss her off.

Other examples of this too-muchness swamping bit characters: the nerdy comic banter of two of the techs (he's got a big collection of plastic dinosaurs on his desk), the schmuck handler who falls into the 'raptor cage's dumb glassy-eyed slack-jawed idiocy; the guy running the hamster balls who can't just say "they're all present and accounted for," he has to add "it's my job." Vincent D'Onofrio saying "if only we'd had these things at Tora Bora;" the Asian geneticist drinking green tea in a clear glass cup in a Bruce Lee style black sweater; and naturally the first person eaten is of Latino persuasion. Wouldn't want to break Jurassic tradition.

Latinos: first in the field; first to be eaten.

But as feminist critics have noted, Claire is the worst of all: the most dated and cookie cutter trite 'bitchy exec' in the history of movies. Void of anything remotely like survival instincts, when flying dinosaurs are carrying women and children off to their deaths all around her she figures the time is right to stand up on top of a jeep and shout for the boys' attention. While she and Owen are hiding from the Indominus Rex she shouts at the top of her lungs to see if the kids can hear. "The kids are still alive, but you and I will not be if you keep shouting like that," Owen tersely whispers. She glares back at him, too caught in that zone Camille Paglia writes about in Sexual Personae, the presumption that somehow wild animal nature can be brought to heel simply by making a sour face at the man trying to tell her it can't. And if the man tells her stomping her feet won't help her avoid being eaten then he's being a misogynist. Naturally when she winds up in jeopardy, he must risk his life to save her while she's a hero because she waves her arms at a viewing screen and screams "For gods sake, Harry! Be a man and Do something!!"

It's all worth it though because, in the end, doused in sweat and down to her strappy tee (above), she finds a pose she can assume without looking hippy (in the anatomical sense), presumably why in all her shots she has jackets tied around her waist and/or is shot from the navel up (though far be it from me to be genuinely sexist about pointing such things out). Assuming the sexy pose of Julia Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon or a cave girl from either When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth or One Million BC, that sexy submissive crouch that helped launch the hormones of a generation of 12 year-old boys (and some girls) on TV back in the 70s, Opie's little girl doth rock it at last.

There's other good moments: the comical punchlines and counter bites of the flying dinosaur attacks, all very indebted to Spielberg and Joe Dante. And Pratt practically does save the film as well as the day : "Your boyfriend's a badass." says the older brother. One can't deny that, what with his driving a motorcycle into battle, his raptor squad racing around him; but actually being her boyfriend seems just too dangerous, maybe worse in the long term than being torn to shreds by a pterodactyl (I'm amazed I can still spell that word, it's been at least 40 years!). Her idea of guardianship: drive the kids to the dinosaur attack zone, then lock them in the back of a windowless truck and leave them there; don't even let them watch the take-down from a remote feed, which at that point is like one of those things where the returns Vietnam vet's mom still expects him to obey his old curfew. One need only look at that buzzkill frown of Judy Greer to understand the damage wrought by this insidious type of maternal manipulation, the type that breeds Normans rather than Owens. That they can even recognize Pratt's badassery is testament to their resilience, not hers. If kids of these two Tyrannosaurus Reginas ever screw up bad enough they get sent to military school then maybe they'll finally have a fighting chance to be men. If not, they'll never fight again, except with the cleaning lady when she accidentally starches their socks.


Some in typing pool might argue women have to be ball-busters in order to earn men's respect at the office but that argument evaporates when you see Anne Heche in VOLCANO (1997). Her dialogue is so full of quick-thinking expertise and decisive commands so expertly, beautifully, naturally delivered that we realize inept, ditzy, bitchy, uptight or dumb professional women characters are the weakness of lazy screenwriters who make no attempt to understand the field they're writing about, and rather than doing some actual research, just write neurotic female experts who don't know either.

Part of the fault, naturally, falls with the way Hollywood coddles the beautiful children of the rich and famous. A lifetime of being beautiful, rich and connected has left them with no real idea of what life is like. Naturally they confuses seriousness with scowling. That's how it looks on the outside, so that must be all it is.

I say to these actresses: look upon Anne Heche in VOLCANO! And take goddamned notes.

If you've already seen VOLCANO and thought 'meh' due to some of its more groan-inducing Crash-esque post-Rodney King LA healing incidents and the dimwit clingy daughter played Gaby Hoffmann, then I say look again, and ignore everything but Anne Heche.

She's so damn good in this film she had to be demeaned by a hostile media after some mental aberrations and substance issues that would have been forgiven with a wink were she a man (or the daughter of some major power player or icon). She should be as honored and A-listed as Robert Downey Jr. If she's not, well, it's because she's crazy and because the man is scared of her. And you can see why when you watch VOLCANO.

If the time frame between JURASSIC WORLD and VOLCANO is too great for you, consider it against the 'other' volcano movie of 1997, DANTE'S PEAK. They came out at the same time, though DANTE'S beat it to theaters by two months, and hack shiite it is, but it follows all the rules of the Spielberg thrill ride blockbuster, while VOLCANO is more a TAKE OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE kind of real-time disaster maintenance in a high population urban center film -- right in step with 1978 but way too mature and complex for the average suburban mall family outing. But today PEAK is recognized as shiite and VOLCANO gets better with each viewing. What we wanted on the big screen in the late 90s is not the same as what endures as relevant in the 21st century post-9ll world. While a quick thinking big canvas disaster movie that tears through the real Los Angeles in practically real time, VOLCANO has enough well researched cliche-free back-and-forth between city department heads that it touches the rattatat genius of Paddy Chayefsky or 70s films that know the subject they're exploring--the sometimes curmudgeonly affection and good-natured combativeness between City Hall, The Fire and Police Depts, FEMA, and so forth-- inside and out. The writers and actors having clearly spent time embedded in the company of firemen and relief coordinators, nail the way experts and officials have to become quick thinking order-givers, promoted over time to the current point by their ability to stay cool in a crisis and mobilize team heads and be constantly inputting and computing results rather than freaking out while the fireballs fly. It's rich with mature people and overlapping dialogue flowing past us in savory rushes with no chance to catch our breath or explain to ten year-old without pausing. Rather than the DANTE's majestic adventure sweep, where every emotion we're meant to feel is broadly choreographed, VOLCANO's got that 'just another fucked day in NYC' kind of blue collar guy professionalism (transplanted to LA). The bits of character business feel real, ala (the original) PELHAM 123 and DOG DAY AFTERNOON.

There's only one or two weak points in VOLCANO and alas, they're what most people remember: 1) An absurd (but effective) bit of Rodney King commentary as a cop tries to arrest a guy for being black while downtown LA is erupting around, then they work together to halt the flow, etc. 2) Jones' simpering little brat daughter who drags herself along in the car while he juggles the madness. Neither has bupkis to do with Heche's character, though. The city's national geologist spokesperson, Heche's character is mature, gutsy, engagingly written and acted, sexy and in the moment, loose and joyous and above all, competent.

DANTE'S PEAK relies on its quaint isolated setting to avoid having to find out what the real world is like. It's worse even than JURASSIC WORLD as far as lazily etched characters. As if they're afraid Pierce Brosnan's shaky geologist widower and local mayor Linda Hamilton (right) won't look rosy enough unless surrounded by evil squat toadying acne-ridden greedheads and/or adenoidal tech nerd thorns. Two attractive smart people in a world tossed with ugly idiot characters copied off TWISTER's math test, Brosnan and Hamilton (Bond and Sarah Connor) have a believable chemistry. Their mature and Bridges of Madison County pastoral romance lures us in buttheir almost-kiss is interrupted by volcanic shizzz; meanwhile the burly bear guy in charge cautions the town about evacuation as it hurts tourism; the tweaker little shrimp tech has his one 'quirk' a limp bid at Tarantino chatter as he won't shut up about gourmet coffee. As with the TWISTER storm chasers, the banter is douche chill-inducing hackneyed it actually reverses character development like an overexposed negative.

VOLCANO provides an unavoidable, sudden calamity that feels like it's bringing out the best in people over an approx. 48 hour period, but--much easier to write--DANTE's calamity hinges on greed and stupidity (in everyone but Brosnan and Hamilton) during poorly etched-out week of research, as if the mayoral greed of JAWS has been watered down and spread around to poison all the children on Harry Lime's hospital list. The town leaders won't evacuate despite the ominous portents, as if they can argue fiscal deadlines with boiled backpackers; Hamilton's kids put her and Brosnan in danger by driving themselves up the mountain into the ash storm to get grandma (who won't evacuate). Rather than in-the-moment quick thinking of the type we see in VOLCANO, the adventure in PEAK hinges on the kind of stupidity chains which wipe out whole communities, one rescuer going after the other until none are left but Darwin and Emerson chuckling from on high.

Its attempts to add CRASH racist LA morals or no, VOLCANO is the opposite. Extremely well written and researched and, I'm guessing, rehearsed, it certainly should have put Anne Heche in the same A-list company of Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock if she wasn't already, but she got ground up in the hot button issues with Ellen and mysticism. Nothing as bad as Robert Downey Jr., but she was a woman, from a poor family, and 'out' (and then straight again) and suffering from a mental illness, which makes it harder to insure you.

That's part of it, but I also feel the mainstream press is far warier of recognizing scary assertive talent in women. They like their female stars to be either stunning beauties with very little range, or else moms and/or daughters first, professionals second. They only recognize great acting if it occurs in "great" pictures of Oscar calibre. If they're going to play professional career women they must be frigid bitches just waiting for the right middle-aged hero to gentle them down off the ledge. But this is not at all the m.o. of our cool professional Anne Heche. Thinking of her friend who was sucked into the flaming bowels of the earth under the La Brea tar pits the night before, she looks at all the erupting lava and chaos in downtown LA-- the horror and devastation--eyes wide, she says sincerely, "Rachel would have loved this!"

Fuck yeah!

I almost fell out of my chair with joy when I finally re-watched this movie last week and heard that line. Why is it that Heche is the only woman cool enough to say that kind of shit, EVER? Is it any wonder male Hollywood was threatened? There hadn't been a female character this resilient and ahead of the curve, this free of buzzkill mom morality, since FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL. Usually a woman is left at home with the kids, there to make angry phone calls demanding husband return because he has "responsibilities here too. We need you here, too, David!" and then when he's in trouble calling the precinct or wherever and demanding they do something! If they end up tagging along they certainly disprove of heroism and any display of enjoyment in courting danger. They provide exposition gaps, rolling their eyes like the volcano is somehow dad's fault, his excuse not to come home. Come home, David!

Heche's Anne is light years ahead of all that. Stunned but invigorated after her near death experience in the subway tunnels below the street, she hangs around in the thick of the eruption all morning, day, and night, not whining for Tommy Lee Jones' attention like his idiot daughter does, but doing her job, improvising, finding the path of the lava by watching a ball liberated from a looted toy store window, making calculations, etc. and barking them out super fast to Jones, who doesn't question them or give her shit cuz she's a woman but merely reacts and mobilizes his team to follow her instruction without a second thought. There's no spare time to second guess whether her advice is just that of a girl... standing in front of a man... and asking him to evacuate the city blocks between La Brea and the Pacific ocean. There's not even time for her to go "Tommy! Tommmeeee! I have something to say." Her understanding of the lava and his understanding of the city form a fluid machine where urgent calamity is responded to in ways their opposite numbers in DANTE'S would never dream possible... being too busy trying to dig themselves out of stupid predicaments created by idiot grandmothers of idiot children and idiot superiors worried about idiot tourists and clearing everything through idiot councils, like how the French lost to the Nazis.

But more than just being smart, capable, and able to think on her feet logically rather than getting bogged down in the tar of 'emotional conviction,' Heche is playing one of the few heroic female characters allowed to genuinely love being in the thick of danger. Usually enjoying calamity is the sole domain of villains, "sluts" femme fatales whose jubilance gets people killed or seems otherwise monstrous (as in she needs a man to shout: "Damnit it Kate, those aren't statistics, numbers in a notebook, they're people! With families!") In other words, Heche is not the type to think shouting "Somebody DO something!" in a moment of extreme crisis qualifies as being a capable manager (or like Jones' idiot daughter, let emotional prioritizing commence a whole chain of doomed rescuers as she pursues a lone dumbass infant into the blast zone, and dad has to go after her and risk his life as well).

But daughter's dumb decision has little to do with Heche, who doesn't have a daughter to deal with. In fact, Heche is the one who rescues them more or less, and though Jones has all the earmarks of the Dad of Great Adventure there's little of the annoying tics of the type, since the good aspects of Tommy Lee's character (he's able to stay cool and process loads of information during a natural disaster--and after all, it is his job) are also the bad (he can't ever just relax and let someone else take over even for an hour or two). We generally loathe micro-managerial bosses but we know Jones is cool because his staff tease him about it and he just rolls with it. As with his back-and-forth with Heche, dialogue with the staff (including second-in-command Don Cheadle) is all believable, the jokes and banter and character etching deftly woven into the action and exposition, rather than the 'here's three pages of character banter and now three pages of exposition and now three pages of disaster management' lameness of DANTE'S PEAK, a film that can't chew gum and walk at the same time.

Confession: when saw them the first time I loved DANTE'S more, mainly due to the heat so effortlessly generated between mayor Linda Hamilton and coiffed vulcanologist Pierce Brosnan--I loved his Bond, and loved her Sarah Connor and it was the late 90s. In PEAK she made me want to date a mother of two and move to a cool house in the shadow of gorgeous Colorado mountain. VOLCANO seemed much too busy, too full of business (then again, I was probably drunk when I rented it). Now I don't get how I didn't get it then, or how I let a few Rodney King hand-holding "we are the children" moments rush me to snide dismissal. But now, on widescreen DVD it's DANTE that looks willfully naive; Brosnan especially seems much too handsome and composed to be believable as a roving geologist. Look at him up there, not a single fleck of ash in that hair, and baby that ain't snow outside. Hamilton's mayor meanwhile leans on her maternal sweetness to convince the town to blindly follow and believe everything Brosnan says, his immaculate TV looks carrying a kind of absolute law she's been waiting all these years to capitulate her mayoral authority to.

Heche on the other hand, makes that ash dusting work. Her character is the spokesperson for her department and she handles the press conferences with ease and poise and oomph --no bitchiness or stomach butterflies or Kathy/Lucy-like "waaahs" of exasperation. I can only imagine how great she would have been in the Bryce Dallas Howard role of JURASSIC WORLD, especially if she could have some character and wardrobe input. It would have been cool to see her get it on with Chris Pratt, that would have been innovative like the platonic post-relationship friendship in JP III and the mixed-race family of JP II. She might have even pulled it off without someone having to use the word "cougar. And her being older and more self-assured would make more sense as an executive. Is it my fault for liking Brosnan in the 90s that characters like Heche's in VOLCANO are long gone, and feminism is in such shit straits?

Of course not, but it does show that big budget scripts aren't necessarily worth their money, and legacies (as in Howard's famous power player father) don't often bring much to the table beyond a tolerable actress with a pedigree (rather than a great one with possible problems).

My guess? Heche has suffered (a rough childhood, unstable parents, etc.), Howard hasn't. Even after all the bodies are hauled away the next morning, Howard's Claire doesn't seem changed, sharpened by trauma and the exaltation of her "Rex-whisperer" bravery; she just seem tired from being up all night and when she cries in the arms of her sister it's only from exhaustion and relief --take the damn kids! Now if they get eaten, it's on you.

At the end of VOLCANO, on the other hand, Heche is exhilarated, turned-on. You can feel her blood surging in her veins, singing with life. That's my kind of crisis-handling bitch.

If only it was America's.
See also:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

5 Psychotronic Gems on Netflix: Badass Babes for a Bernie Nation

By popular request, here's the idealistic third entry in the Streaming Future canon, five films that reflect a grass roots toughness in places where grass is rare. Psychotronic in their outlaw spirit, these tales of tough warrior babes convey flagrant disregard for your mannish gaze's woeful tantrums.

It's strange to me that most badass foxes I know in real life are for Bernie and uninspired by warrior clan alpha Hillary. For them it's not a matter of gender but a whole new sort of post-internet age disregard for tradition, even tradition of woman empowerment--is this the arrival of fourth wave feminism, or merely post-Christian patriarchy in a way the just bypasses fighting it and just lets it topple of its own volition, like when you're pushing against someone pushing against you and then you stop and just step out of the way and they fall over? Either way, a bespectacled, hunched-over plain talking elderly Jewish senator has inspired them to vote and care the way they used to, before Obama let himself by hamstrung by his Quiet Man schoolyard pacifism and fear of Executive Order writs. It wasn't intentional that this list includes so many badass young warriors but here they are, cage-free, no abductions, no HMOs or HPOs or HBOs. These women aren't waiting to be abused before fighting back. They're not waiting for their insurance card before collecting what is owed. These women look askance at the subtextually clueless Jurassic World-style cinch-your-blouse, roll-up-your-sleeves and pout-to-make-nature-behave feminism that passes for strength in mainstream Hollywood. This shit is gonna get bloody, and fucking fast, and as Bogart said in Cult of the Damned, screw anyone who hates killing! And that means you, mainstream Hollywood!

(2013) Dir Henry Saine
It's one of those cult-deserving films that is, I think, undone by its generic title and poster art. It should be called MARY DEATH, KILL! (a play on both that 'Mary, Boff, Kill' game, and 'Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!') It stars a cute badass named Christian Pitre as Mary Death, a famous bounty hunter in a post-apocalyptic time when bounty hunters are the new rock stars, and their quarry are the executives of underground corporations (who all wear yellow ties). Mary Death is a gleaming national symbol of a new post-corporate order, followed by adoring photographers and magazine piece writers as she tools around the wasteland in search of targets. And great as she is, Mary Death is just one aspect of this wildly entertaining fusion of GAS-S-S-S pumped into THE ROAD WARRIOR via a Jack Hill-directed pump. I love this movie to death, and the casual way it has with total over-the-top gore and brutality makes my heart soar like hawk.

Lookin' slammin' in mod dress cream-and-dark red dress and packin' guns like the little sister of Gina Carano (as in she can believably kick ass and not like in the 'don't bust my nails -eww gross' half-assed way that undoes countless lesser films), Pitre makes a great action heroine. And if you think it's easy to put a good Corman-esque babes-n-guns action film together in our day and age then you've never seen SUCKER PUNCH or TANK GIRL or AEON FLUX or ULTRA-VIOLET, BITCH SLAP, CAT RUN, BARB WIRE, SALT, HANNAH or ELEKTRA. Everything those gets wrong, this gets right. Even the love interest, the MAD MAX-esque Aussie rival for the big bounties, Raider (Mathew Marsden) is cool. Kristina Loken is well into the full-fanged spirit of the piece as Raider's old girlfriend, now a corporate bigwig out to headhunt him into a shave, tie, and cubicle to call his own (He used to be among the crowd she's in with!) Raider needn't worry. Mary's got more tricks up her sleeve than her old crew of Post-Pagan matriarchal vehicular guerrillas have skull face tattoos. Did my higher self make this movie in heaven and send it back through time to perk my spirits up? Like the Bern was himself so sent? (See: Pharmageddon)

Why the BERN: What part of open war against the 1% corporate raiders did you not get?! Blam Blam! Let their yellow ties be spattered in gore, their golf courses and office cubicles awash in the blood of the surviving 1% of the .001%. And the surviving 10% of the 99% shall inherit the radioactive wind, the antique Budweiser six packs, and the black rain.

(1990) Dir Richard Stanley
It's one of those foxy girl vs. murder machine movies --think the last ten minutes of the Terminator and Demon Seed rolled into one hell of a Blade Runner-sque future, which sounds very erotic, I know, but instead... it's Hardware and is marred only by the superfluous leering of a fat pervert and some dated haircuts. Directed by the Peter Weir of 90s sci-fi, Richard Stanley, it's filled with the sort of weird termite detail we expect from the blighter who gave us the almost-great Dust Devil and then was kicked off his own adaptation of Island of Dr. Moreau. As with great pastiche gems like the above Bounty Killer you can see the influences and homages from a mile off, but they're the right influences, and there's a smartness about using what's available at the stereo junkyard (to a level of true outsider folk art derangement) to fill the techno-pagan loft apartment of said metalsmith, including lots of dirty video monitors. When the erotic shower occurs with boyfriend Dermot Mulroney, he keeps his metal hand still on! And that's the Stanley difference!

Now, unlike Bounty Killer, this isn't a great gonzo nuthouse totally bonkers film, but it is full of period new wave and punk rock and any isolating artist will relate to foxy redhead Stacey Travis in her fortress of sculptural solitude, high up in her giant, refugee and homeless-strewn building. And unlike Bounty Killer, which is perfect in every way, Hardware's all almost undone by the obscene caller fat guy. I like to give Stanley the benefit of the doubt and presume the excessive scenes of his gross face smacking his lips were meant to be removed by the censors (2), but it illuminates why Stanley is so often railroaded out of final cut, because this would be a great movie if one could just snip 90% of that leering, boil-faced lecher's reaction shot peep camera cutaways. 

Luckily once sad skeeve's dispatched to the hell of a thousand eye gouges, the hero robot--every population control advocate's dream machine--resumes setting about euthanizing any human it can find as a last ditch effort to bring the human population down to sane levels (ala something referred to in a radio news broadcast as "the recent sterilization act"). Its electrokinetic ability to re-build itself makes it impossible to kill and Travis' fortress-level locks make it impossible for people to rescue her. All she can do is evolve, in seamless momentum, from disaffected artist chick to primal savage --this Travis does, quite well; her fierce determination and artistically-smeared facial blood and oil spatter blend perfectly with her pale face, green eyes and autumnal red hair. She's so good you'll want to date an Irish girl all over again. Don't! 

WHY THE BERN:  Like Bernie himself, it's a scrappy analog indie, and what it lacks in polish or budget it makes up with interesting, vividly realized ideas and utopian themes far deeper than a first glance would indicate. 

PS - If you're subject to anxiety attacks or epilepsy - be warned - lots of strobes and flashing lights.

(2014) Dir. Thomas S. Hammock
In a world turned to desert from global warming, the once fecund fields of Oregon have withered to a parched desert; a handful of unwashed settlers are under constant attack from the local water baron and his posse of gas mask-wearing goons. A dark preacher, and the baron's foxy redheaded daughter are along for the killing ride. Finally, nearly everyone else has been killed or died of thirsty causes and one hardscrabble teenage girl (Haley Lui Richardson) decides to take the fight to them. Her hair and clothes and skin perfectly bleached and faded to blend in with the surroundings, fearless and scrappy, sneaking across the landscape like an armed mix of sharper feral kid and less self-righteous Katniss, with impressively dark eyebrows, Haley Lui Richardson can shoot, sneak and stab -she doesn't miss and if she gives a passing survivor a jar of water she has no illusions he won't come back that night to steal the well.

What makes this understated, quiet film stand out from most post-apocalypse dramas is its female protagonist never hesitates to land the killing blow on a disarmed opponent. I'm so tired of action heroines who have to let us know violence isn't 'cool', so if they pick up a gun or knife, shoot once or stab, they have to quick drop the weapon right away, like ewwww, as if the gun or knife in saving their life has somehow sullied their innocence. I've turned off movies the minute this happens in the past (recently: American Ultra, Everly). The Netflix aisles are choked with half-measure woman-on-the-rampage films starring actresses (and wusses) who seem to want people to know they, as humans who care blah blah, hate guns but they want your money anyway so they'll pose with one one, even press the trigger, but usually they only scare their target, or shoot the gun out of their hand, or drop the gun and it goes off, ricochets, and accidentally disarms their opponent. They don't want to be known as a girl who fires guns, as they're liberals blah blah. It's fucking hypocritical.

Sorry for the rant, but it's only to show one reason why I like this film, because these young characters aren't like that. And actually the water baron and his cute redhead daughter are one of the more interesting and complex villain teams I've seen lately: there's just no one around to remind them it's wrong, and it's become a pretty brutal hardscrabble life, so it's understandable they don't want to share or waste water on the elderly. That's sound thinking for a viable future... for once. Hell, he's clearly impressed when Haley comes to his ranch to kill him, so it's not personal or even inhumane, he's just not an idiot, and if the scrappy dame comes at him with a sword, he's going to fight her with a sword, not grab a gun. He almost welcomes death, and his daughter (Nicole from Cycle 13 of America's Next Top Model) is no slouch with the samurai blade herself. Why does everyone demonstrate at least medium proficiency with the exquisite and most deadly blade of the samurai? Who cares, is the question. Everyone not proficient across a spectrum of weapons in this drab and very believable globally warmed future is no doubt long-since dead - is the presumption. To its infinite credit, the script feels no compulsion to exposit.

Other perks: Aside from sporadic, loping cello notes evoking some kind of scarcity-based frontier dustbowl past, Craig Deleon's score's a lovely batch of drone sustains and occasional blazing raw open string electric guitar. The one young child (Max Charles) neighbor is impressive; you look in his kid eyes and see a tough adult; so often, when kid actors try to play grown-up too fast hardscrabble, it's vice versa.

Nicole Fox, by the way, won that cycle of ANTM through her quiet but determined, slyly competitive spirit, well-used here as she initially wrestles with qualms about killing all the unarmed settlers (so they bring a priest along to assure her it's mercy, and this helps), so that anyone too old to carry guns and join their gas mask thug brigade (the masks are smart touches too--helping erase the emotional empathy between them and these families they grew up around) dies as a marcy killing. And her gradual callousing is deftly done, her vaguely sleepy voice a perfect match with the score's eerie drones.

WHY THE BERN: A vivid tale of the youth of tomorrow paying for our parent's mistakes, it presents without preaching the dusty future global warming promises. The water baron being the ultimate example of corporate evil, a Daniel Plainview meets Noah Cross ogre determined to save his own child even at the expense of all others.

(2010) Dir. Neil Marshall
I'm one of the frozen chew who adore Neil "The Descent" Marshall's expensive 2008 flop Doomsday though I missed it in theaters due to terrible advertising. Centurion tried it's best to sneak past me, too. I avoid gladiator movies as a rule, for I can't get past the terrible haircuts, closeted beefcake posturing, endless brutal slavery, relentless parading, and long-winded oratory. To let you know how long it's taken me to finish watching this one, I started back before I knew or cared who Michael Fassbender was, and now I'm a huge fan of his. But in 2010 not even X-Men: First Class had come out. This also has Dominic West as the general leading the doomed 9th legion deep into Pict country. His treacherous female guide (Olga Kurylenko) delivers them into bloody ambush! Well of course she did, genius! The inescapable Ulrich Thomsen plays the brutal Pict chief, who's all too eager to subject the Roman survivors to Pict unpleasantry. They escape, and run across eternally gorgeous Imogen Poots as a local ex-Pict herbalist who helps hide them because, of course, she was ostracized as a witch. She's got real chemistry with Fassbender, which helps the movie work. Together they're earth-magical like Oberon and Titania, parts I'm sure they've both played in some student production or past life or other sometime somehow somewhere...

Imogen Poots (left), j'adore
But the real red meat of the thing is Kurylenko as the mute huntress. We never blame her for hating the Romans or betraying them, and Marshall refuses to judge either side; both Romans and Picts have good and bad people and conflicted impulses within them. The Romans are the invaders so clearly not the 'good guys' in any sense, putting them somewhere between the German U-boat survivors fleeing across Canada in THE 49TH PARALLEL, and the National Guard members in Walter Hill's WARRIORS follow-up, SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981).

It seems at first incongruous at first, but on wider contextual look, CENTURION fits perfectly in with the totality of Marshall's oeuvre --showing his Hawksian love of strong warrior women and the small band of professionals/warriors/badass interlopers running afoul of pagan locals subgenre. CENTURION also has my second favorite close-quarters to-the- death fight between Fassbender and a woman (can you guess the first?). For her part, Kurylenko moves way past her previous Russian mob party girl roles, and even her QUANTUM Bond babe, to a whole new realm of badass.

Romans during a good-natured brawl
WHY THE BERN: Trump is of the Roman lineage, in genes and fascist temperament; the Picts represent the American youth vote, their faces painted like they just got back from Burning Man. Hillary is the commander back across the lines who'd rather eliminate the last survivor to hush up a defeat than risk inspiring the other tribes to rise (i.e. Bengazi). Poots and Fassbender are the hope for the future, the merging of cultures like Hippolyta and Theseus in Midsummer Night's Dream (parts I'm sure they both played, too)--in other words, they're the Bernie future.

(1978) Dir Brian De Palma
De Palma's oh-so 70s telekinetic thriller  / govt. conspiracy Rollercoaster-style amusement park disaster hybrid stars Kirk Douglas as a CIA op dad using telekinetic Amy Irving to find the safe house sequestering his telekinetic son (Andrew Stevens). As always Kirk has to appear shirtless (it is the law), so the opening finds father and son lounging on a beach in Israel. Dad's just finishing up his CIA tenure and son is.... Ooops! Palestinian jet ski assassins! John Cassavetes is/was Kirk's buddy and, as head of a dark ESP ops wing of the CIA, stages and films the assassination of Douglas to screen if for Stevens later, in order to trigger his abilities and leave him with a murderous hatred for Arabs and thus ripe for Middle East remote control assassinations. (Nazi commandant Kevin Bacon trained a young Magneto in X-Men First Class that way years later/earlier, not that you'd know, dear artsy reader.)

With all that acting muscle, are you surprised to learn that the film's more or less stolen by Fiona Lewis as the seductive older analyst who keeps Stevens pacified with sex so he won't want to escape the confines of his luxury safe house? Sure she's hot but she's also manipulative and all the experiments are really getting on his furious nerves! His FURY is rising! Meanwhile, Irving --never lovelier--is coming to find him, like an ESP bloodhound, with daddy Kirk at the leash, heading into the unknown like a Scatman to the axe.

All throughout there's an undercurrent of CIA manipulation all along all the relationships: Ex-CIA man Kirk keeps Irving safe, playing father figure, but using her to get to his son. He also uses sex and affection on vulnerable Hester (Carrie Snodgrass), a teacher at Irving's school for gifted youngsters (also operated by Cassavetes), who he convinces to help her escape. CIA agent Fiona Lewis uses sex on Kirk's son, and Cassavetes uses everyone. Maybe this explains why so many agency analysts are so attractive in real life (as seen in recent HBO documentaries). Kirk's allowed to show off that still-fit chest and be irresistible to younger women, he's cool with whatever (see also: Saturn 3). Look fast for Daryl Hannah (below, center) in a bit part as a snickering classmate of Irving's. Though she doesn't seem to have any psychic ability other than sucking up to the mean girl, it's still fascinating to see a future star handle a fairly long scene as little more than an extra.

Though De Palma's previous hit Carrie is a better movie, I personally find The Fury way more enjoyable as there's less sadism, abuse and bad vibes. Everyone has motives and no one is all good or bad. 2On close examination Cassavetes isn't that much worse than Kirk, I mean, clearly Kirk's overbearing as a dad, and Stevens is old enough he shouldn't need to be 'rescued' from a love nest with Fiona Shaw. This micro-managing makes Kirk--for all his boyish swagger--a bizarro funhouse mirror to Piper Laurie's bible-thumping mom in Carrie. But The Fury, rocks on repeat viewings. Not of all of it really connects but it never disturbs or bums one out the way Carrie does. Like The Visitor, it's everything memorable about the 70s distilled and then dumped down the driveway and set on fire with no grim heartbreaking aftertaste. Cassavetes appears to be having fun in one of his slipperier 'doesn't consider himself a bad guy'-type of smiling villains and Shaw makes the most of one of the decade's great opportunities for sultry female villainy. Though given a critical drubbing in the tosh papers of the time, Pauline Kael stuck up for Fury's "dirty kick" like a gifted child telekinetically forcing her conservative bourgeois classmates' heads down an electrified toilet.

WHY THE BERN:  Fiona Shaw is like some Fox News temptress, programming us to kill all Muslims on sight while keeping us pacified through sex and luxury goods. Bernie is Kirk Douglas, a grey-haired little super-hobbit rescuing the kids of America from the tentacles of the corporate meat grinder. Since Kirk's quest is noble (he just wants his kid to have freedom to choose), the Amy Irving youth vote wants to help him in pursuit of the presidency. A stretch you say? Alas, so's the Bern! Sic temper spem...

Runners up
(rating for each: ***)

(2013) Dir. Neil Jordan

"Dod Sno" (2014) Dir. Tommy Wirkola

(2012) Dir. Xan Cassavettes

(1998) Dir. Roberto Rodriguez

(2013) Dir Caradog W. James

And in interest of dystopian fairness, Stop by..

1. First born sons in occupied countries had to join the Roman army for two years
2. -Filmmakers often overload their films with more gross misogyny and violence than they really want, so after the censor demands cuts for an R-rating, the end result will be what they wanted in the first place and the censor will feel like 'they made a difference'. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...